Christmas Travels: New Orleans
Note: I’m doing a little 2013 Creative Pay-It-Forward over on my Facebook Page. If you’re interested in receiving a little edible gift from me at some point during the year, head over to the FB Page and leave a comment. I’m looking to spread a little cheer this year, hope you’ll join me!
New Orleans is one of my favorite cities to travel to. The weather is almost always wonderful (especially in the fall-winter-spring seasons), people are incredibly friendly, and the food is bar-none. Given that my mother lives in Mobile, Alabama, now, G & I always try to tack a visit to New Orleans in when we see my family.
Since most flights out of Roanoke always require a hop, heading south via Delta always means a layover in my hometown of Atlanta–something I’ve never gotten used to. Homesickness hits big time as soon as I see the Bank of America building lit up downtown, but I like to drown my sorrows at Sweet Water Brewing’s newish Draft House & Grill. The food seems…well, of the Sysco variety, but the beer can’t be beat. And, excitingly, I was able to sip my first Festive Ale since I moved north. Spicy with deep malt notes, it’s a great holiday brew. What I’d give for distribution in Roanoke…
After touching down in New Orleans and checking into our hotel, we were off for a late night dinner at one of our favorites in the French Quarter–Coop’s Place. Famous for their fried chicken, we opted for the Taste Plate, a mix of some of their most popular dishes: seafood gumbo, shrimp creole, Cajun fried chicken, red beans & rice, and rabbit and sausage jambalaya.
I’d tried the jambalaya and the fried chicken before and thought they were good and, after trying the gumbo and creole, I think I’ll stick with those two dishes in the future. The fried chicken is super crispy with very moist meat and the jambalaya’s rabbit and sausage really elevates it past any other I’ve tried in the quarter. The thing that really makes the jambalaya a gem, though, is the $3 addition of shrimp and tasso–a spicy, smoked, cured cut of pork butt that tastes like pork belly. And if you’re looking for a little more heat, be sure to ask for the house hot sauce–it’s a doozy, but well worth it.
We turned in early that night and slept in, but woke up in time to hit up another favorite, Jager Haus, for bacon bloody mary’s and breakfast. I know, I know, bacon might have been so two years ago, but I’m a believer in the bacon + booze + breakfast combo. Something about the spicy brine of the bloody mary and the smoked cure of the bacon just goes hand-in-hand. Trust me, you want this drink.
G ordered the Flammkuchen, an Alsatian dish that was originally created to test how hot a wood burning pizza oven was. Like a super thin pizza, the one we tried was fairly authentic, featuring creme fraiche, brie, caramelized onions, and bacon. Simultaneously rich and light, it’s a great flat bread to share for breakfast.
I opted, unsurprisingly for anyone who knows my predilection for German food and, specifically, spaetzle, for the Breakfast Spaetzle, an ooey-gooey, starch-filled breakfast of spaetzel, scrambled eggs, swiss cheese, and bacon. Seriously good stuff. If there’s any great use for leftover spaetzle it’s this–fried dumplings, bacon, and eggs is exactly what you want when you’re hungover. Which I wasn’t. But I could imagine it’d be what I’d want.
After spending the afternoon wandering around the city and then taking an epic nap (seriously, we were so tired and beat down that we ended up napping a lot during this trip–sad but true), we gussied up and tromped off to a nice dinner and cocktails out. The last time we were in New Orleans, the most amazing meal of the trip was at Green Goddess, a restaurant which was at the time led by Chris DeBarr and Paul Artigues. That evening two years ago, we dined on absinthe roasted oyster soup (relevatory) and braised turkey necks (G had to fight me for a taste of that tender goodness), but since then Chris DeBarr has moved on to his own venture–Serendipity. Wanting to sample more of Chris’ globally-diverse and locally-sourced dishes, a meal at Serendipity was tops on our list.
Housed in a loft refurb complex, Serendipity’s space is open and modern centered by a large, dark bar on one end. Well stocked and with a knowledgable bartender at the helm, you can’t go wrong with one Serendipity’s cocktails. My Old Fashioned was superb, heavy on the whisky with hints of orange and bitters. If you’re staying in the French Quarter, but sure to take a cab to the restaurant as it’s not exactly close to the more touristy areas of the city.
The menu is split into a tasting menu, crostini snacks, and supper, but the supper portion of the menu holds both appetizers and entree portions. Everything is insanely reasonably priced. For example: the tasting menu costs a grand total of $60 for five savory courses. And while the tasting menu features dishes not on the supper menu, you can order anything on it individually.
We decided to split a few appetizer-ish dishes, a main entree, and a dessert in addition to cocktails and a digestif. First up, the Corn & Crab Johnnycakes composed of cornmeal blini with jumbo lump crabmeat, roasted red pepper & eggplant puree, with a wasabi caviar sprinkled on top. I found the blini to be a little thick, but I loved that both corn kernels and crab meat was mixed in the blini batter, and the wasabi caviar stole the show. The little cool pops of wasabi added a little heat and fun to the dish and really brought it together into a cohesive appetizer.
Next were the Fried Pickled Okra Rellenos, a cross-the-boarder mashup of deep south ingredients with Mexican flair. The pickled okra were stuffed with pimento-jalapeno cheese and were fried in harina batter (as in masa harina) and served with a ajvar (roasted red pepper and garlic) sauce. I had high hopes for the dish, and it wasn’t bad, but I’d been hoping for the pimento cheese to be a little more distinct. I honestly couldn’t taste any, the batter being the most prominent part of the dish. But I loved the fried pickled okra and the ajvar sauce–almost like an elevated bar snack. Not my favorite, but not all that bad either.
Our third appetizer was the Fried Pork Mochi, another southern fusion dish, but this time featuring eastern techniques. Chris explained that the mochi is made of grits ground to a superfine flour, thus mimicing the rice flour in traditional mochi. The resulting fried grit cake is stuffed with barbecued pork and sautéed greens, making for a light, fried snack that I found to be irresistible. Seriously, someone pass me a plate of these, I’m going into withdrawl.
For our final savory dish, we opted (out of a long list of tantalizing entrees including Andouille-Crusted Gulf Fish, Creole Curried Lamb Baklava, and Red Wine Wild Mushrooms) for the Malaysian Red Curry Goat Empanada. The empanada was stuffed duck fat fried rutabagas, caramelized parsnips, and Malaysian red curried goat and served with a basil-mint-cucumber raita and sweet potato tostones. Malyasia, India, and Latin America represented in one dish. Seriously, this was one global plate of food–and it all worked. The goat curry was rich with just the right amount of heat–spicy enough that you could taste the peppers in the curry, but not too much so as to turn anyone off, and I loved pairing that meat with parsnips and rutabaga. Given that it was a cold, blustery night, it was a perfect warming dish. The raita was nice to cool it off, but the tostones were another highlight for me. They don’t look like much, but the sweet potatoes mimicked plantains better than I could have ever imagined. Flattened and twice fried, I could have eaten a whole basket of them. Same with the empanada–it was hard to share!
Given all that amazing food, it’s a miracle we had room for dessert, but I had to try it, especially since we hadn’t two years earlier at Green Goddess. Everything on the menu looked good a Hubig’s style fried hand pie, medjool dates filled with foie gras mousse, absinthe ice cream, but I’m a chocoholic and I can’t resist the idea of grilled cake. Chocolate Cake Bruschetta it was. Topped with honey-whipped ricotta and served with maraska cherries, the cake was, indeed, grilled (it seemed like a dense chocolate pound cake), and the char on the chocolate was a great combination. I loved the bitter richness of the dish, the maraska cherries adding a little tartness, the ricotta lightening it all up. Over all, a stellar dessert.
Our entire meal at Serendipity was wonderful and we’ll definitely be returning the next time we’re in New Orleans. Maybe it wasn’t quite as magical as Green Goddess, but it’s hard to beat absinthe roasted oysters and braised turkey necks, and I loved Chris’ take on southern fusion cuisine. I’d like to see a little more attention to plating (and maybe some new dishes–the cream colored ones were rather utilitarian), but I get the feeling that Chris is more interested in how the food tastes than the frou frou often surrounding a restaurant. Since the restaurant just opened in November, we were blown away at how attentive the waitstaff was and how good each of the dishes were. You couldn’t feel or taste the opening pains and that speaks volumes for Chris DeBarr.
After our meal, we called cab and headed across town to Cure, one of the most innovative and classy bars in which to grab a cocktail in New Orleans. We’d enjoyed a few cocktails at Cure on our last trip and I was eager to sample some more–it’s a cocktail bar that reminds me very much of Holeman and Finch in Atlanta, one of my favorite places on the planet. Dark with a sleek, back lit bar, Cure was ridiculously busy for a Thursday night, but then again it was the Thursday before a holiday weekend, so maybe that accounted for some of it.
The bartender who mixed our drinks was fast and extremely cordial, especially when I knocked over my Old Fashioned (not from drinking too much–I swear I’m just a klutz) and he offered to mix me a new one. The first drink I tried was, appropriately since the end of the world was the following day, The End is Nigh: Rittenhouse, Bonal Gentiane Quina, Varnelli Amaro Sibilla, Angostura Bitters, Orange. A gorgeous drink, but a little too bitter for me. Bonal Gentiane Quina is a French apertif wine made from gentian root, cinchona (quinine) and herbs of the Grand Chartreuse mountains, all in a Mistelle (fortified wine) base. That plus the bitters and Varnelli made the drink a little overpowering, so I ended up swapping it out for whatever G was drinking. I’m crafty that way.
The second drink was at the suggestion of my friend who first introduced me to the delicious world of craft cocktails–the Trinidad Sour. Another bitter drink, this one features 1 oz of Angostura bitters in addition to orgeat, lemon juice, and Rittenhouse. Hate to admit but I never knew that bitters-based cocktails existed, and after the Trinidad Sour, I’m a fan. The drink held hints of clove in addition to the orgeat and lemon and was a really smooth, easy to drink tangy, bitter cocktail. I’m going to try my hand at one very soon.
The next day was another epic day of eating, but with slightly less luxurious overtones. I’m not sure if beignets for breakfast really counts as a breakfast, but a warm, powdered basket of them from Cafe Beignet is too good to pass up. I haven’t eaten at Cafe du Monde since high school, so I can’t compare the two places, but Cafe Beignet on Royal Street houses a fluffy black and white cat and tons of happy little sparrows who will peck crumbs off your table while you’re eating. Love the little cafe.
More walking around and browsing in shops and it was time for lunch. And what’s a trip to New Orleans without a po’boy? The problem is, most of the po’boys in the French Quarter are pretty meh. I wanted a good po’boy and headed to Yelp to see what was what. Turns out another Green Goddess connection saved the day–Cam Boudreaux, former sous chef at Green Goddess, opened his own po’boy joint in the back of the Erin Rose Bar on Conti Street. And, like the name of the restaurant, he serves up some absolutely Killer Poboys.
We shared the Dark & Stormy Pork and Coriander Lime Gulf Shrimp Po’boys, along with a few Abitas in the Erin Rose Bar, and I’d give a lot to be able to go back and get one of those po’boys tonight. The Dark & Stormy serves up Old New Orleans Rum braised pork with a lime slaw and garlic aioli. Sweet from the rum, the pork was incredibly juicy and flavorful–maybe a little too juicy as it soused the bun, but definitely a good sweet-savory sandwich.
Our favorite, though, was, hands down, the Coriander Shrimp Po’Boy. The shrimp were huge and marinated in coriander, served with pickled radish, carrot, and cucumbers, with herbs and a chili-mayo sauce. Non-traditional, maybe, but, in effect, a better bahn mi than I’ve eaten at any Vietnamese restaurants. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, succulent with a good sear, and the sandwich featured just enough sauce to flavor everything with a good pickle punch from the vegetables. Killer Po’Boys, we’ll be back next time, promise.
Dinner, did you say dinner? Yes, we managed to eat even more that day, though it was a lighter meal. Is it true, we didn’t eat at Cochon or Cochon Butcher last trip to New Orleans? Apparently so, but, since G ate at Cochon Butcher without me this past year, the restaurant was high on my list of must-eats.
We opted for the Butcher for a more casual, cafe feel, and split the charcuterie board and two sides. On the board, spicy coppa (capicola), genoa salami, sopressata, pork rillette, and bresaola was served with flat bread crackers, pickles, and a spicy mustard. Fantastic quality. The coppa and rillette were my two favorites, the rillette balancing fat and pork, the coppa lightly spiced.
Our two sides were the Marinated Brussels Sprouts and the infamous Pancetta Macaroni & Cheese. We weren’t expecting the brussels sprouts to be served cold, but the preparation worked well with them. Roasted and served in an vinaigrette, the brussels were delicious, but the star of the show was the pancetta mac and cheese. I can not even imagine how much cheese must be in each batch of this mac and cheese–let alone the pancetta. It’s rich and gooey and reminds you of the best mac and cheese you’ve never had, only dreamed of. If you eat one thing in New Orleans, I seriously believe this should be it.
Wined & dined, we waddled over to another favorite cocktail bar for one or two final cocktails in the city. Bar Tonique serves up a long list of ‘true cocktails’ in a cozy, neighborhood bar. It was fairly early on a Friday evening when we were there so the room was only half full, but it seemed more like a neighborhood hangout than a fancy schmanzy cocktail bar. While it serves similar drinks to Cure, the clientele is more laid back. My brandy toddy hit the spot and put me in that Christmas mood.
One last Irish Coffee with breakfast the next morning, and G & I were off to Mobile for Christmas.
New Orleans is truly a city that I love, though I don’t think I could live there, and I can’t wait for another opportunity to go back and visit. I think we’ll stay in a non-French Quarter hotel or B&B next time, just to get off the beaten path, but I have few complaints about the lazy, boozy, deep South city. New Orleans, I love you, never, never change.
SweetWater Brewing Draft House & Grill
Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport
1109 Decatur Street N
ew Orleans, LA 70116
833 Conti Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
3700 Orleans Avenue
New Orleans, Louisiana 70119
4905 Freret Street
New Orleans LA 70115
334-B Royal Street
New Orleans, Louisiana
811 Conti Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
930 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
820 North Rampart Street
New Orleans, LA 70116